Summon Magic
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Basic Information

This is a school of magic, generally confined to RPGs, in which the caster teleports other creatures in from other places or dimensions, usually under his control and typically to fight for him.

Normally the summoning will start with small, relatively harmless creatures and be scaled with caster level so that it eventually extends to large, dangerous and frequently supernatural ones. More ambitious systems may allow casters to summon pretty much anything they like but tie the chance of having any control over it to their skill or level, meaning that common sense needs to play a part as well.

Systems vary as to the amount of depth involved in summoning magic - some will demand that the caster contact specific sumonees and bargain with them ahead of time, in others a generic creature pops out of nowhere and then vanishes again once its time is up. In some cases, quite specific rules are in place to prevent any flexibility in the role of the summoned creature.

Occasionally "summoning" may represent a more mundane call for an ally - this is particularly prevalent in cRPGs where "pets" and similar creatures can be whistled up for combat and then mysteriously vanish after a set period or once combat is complete.

Many RPGs tie "summoning magic" in to invocation and/or theurgy and some (and this is not limited to RPGs) allow inanimate objects to be summoned. The summoning of inanimate objects may be called apportation, or that name may be used for something else. The term conjuration or conjuring may also be used for any or all of the aspects so far addressed.

The idea of making creatures appear from nowhere has at least some heritage in "real world" magical traditions, but not usually to the extent depicted in RPGs.


  • The Call of Cthulhu RPG - an honourable mention given that summoning in this game is not at all level balanced and can be both useful and dangerous (and frequently both at once), even if the investigators are genre savvy enough to make sure they've learnt the correct warding and binding spells before they summon. Arguably summoning in CoC has more in common with invocation than traditional RPG summoning.
  • In Rowling's Potterverse, summoning (as per "the summoning charm") is specifically of inanimate objects only.
  • D&D is probably a key example of level scaled mook summoning.
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Usually this type of summoning is done by NPC bad guys to bring in reinforcements if it looks like the party is going to kick his Evil Archmage kiester.
  • However a PC can sometimes use this type of magic to summon Allies too; especially if he is a Petmaster and has some kind of magical Familiar
    • One question the GM will have to consider in this case is who controls the Ally? If the Ally is an NPC, it basically means that the GM is fighting with himself and that's no fun. If the player controls his Ally, then he's essentially playing two characters, and that affects game balance. These problems aren't insurmountable, but need to be considered.
  • Some things to consider when integrating summon magic into your world:
    • If a summon is killed, does the death carry through to the original? Damage? Mental trauma? Persuasion? Exhaustion of limited resources?
    • Can a creature be rescued from unpleasant situations by being summoned1? Can it refuse a summoning, or at least explain that it's in the middle of a bath/hot date/project?
    • How much can a summon remember from previous summonings? If two summoners have the same summon, can it relay messages?
    • Is a summon automatically obedient as part of the summoning, or does it have to be bound or negotiated with separately?
  • Important to make sure your players understand the nature of the universe as well - someone who only has experience of cRPGs and/or "that RPG" and their levelled mook summoning is liable to do themselves a disservice if they get hold of a summoning spell in Call of Cthulhu.
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